New Year's Eve found Severus standing nervously in a corridor holding Hermione's hand.
"Severus, you're cutting off my circulation."
He looked at her pale fingers and loosened his grip. "I'm nervous."
She kissed him fondly on the cheek. "You'll do fine."
"I don't know why I let you talk me into this."
"I asked nicely and made you Yorkshire pudding. I'm told that my Yorkshire pudding is what saved negotiations with the centaurs."
"Accord-saving pudding aside, this is not my preferred way of celebrating the new year."
"Would something more private be to your taste?" she asked, idly rubbing the back of his hand with her thumb.
"Insupportable tease," he growled, pulling her close and kissing her soundly.
The door opened and a booming voice echoed down the corridor. "The Wizengamot calls Severus Snape."
There was a collective gasp from within the cavernous room. For a moment, Severus's body tensed, as if contemplating fleeing. She squeezed his hand. "I'll wait for you here," she whispered. "Just pretend they're all first years."
An imperious scowl settled over his features, and he swept through the open door. Hermione watched him go, marvelling at the way the torches flickered as he passed.
Up in the gallery, Ron Weasley watched his former teacher take the stand, glaring fiercely at anyone who dared to meet his eye. "She did it," he murmured, awestruck. "That brilliant, scary girl!"
It was nearing midnight at Firenze's establishment, and the celebratory atmosphere was palpable, even among the nonhumans. The Wizengamot allowed Lucius Malfoy's defence several days to respond to the evidence Severus had given, but The Evening Prophet trumpeted MALFOY DID IT, SNAPE CLAIMS, whilst The Quibbler quoted, "OF COURSE HE'S A BLOODY DEATH EATER!" at the top of its front page. Even Rita Skeeter put in her two cents with MALFOY A MONSTER, SNAPE SNIPES. The man of the hour was skulking in a dark corner of the club, looking, to Hermione's eye, frankly bewildered by the attention, but guardedly pleased.
"This is your idea of something more private?" he asked her.
"Firenze asked us to be here. He says he has an announcement to make."
"Couldn't he simply have told you earlier?"
"He could've, but then you would have missed the chance to greet your adoring public."
As if on cue, several former students of Severus's caught his eye from across the room and raised their glasses in salute. He scowled in response.
The band finished their set, and Firenze climbed up on stage.
"I'd like to thank you all for joining me this evening. New Year's is an auspicious time, when we all contemplate the end of one year and celebrate the beginning of a new one. The word 'auspicious,' as many of you know, is derived from 'auspice,' a word meaning 'sign' or 'omen.' This year's guest speakers have expounded on the astral auspices far beyond my poor ability. Instead, I would like to share an auspice of my own. Last week, I was honoured by my herd with the position of Emissary to the Ministry of Magic. I will be working with the Ministry's Centaur Liaison Officer to spread awareness and build ties between our peoples. I feel that this unprecedented communication between humans and centaurs is an auspice of peace and reconciliation, and I am thankful to my herd for allowing me to take part.
"However, my friends, in accepting this position, I will no longer have the time to serve as proprietor of this establishment. However," he said, extending his hand to the pretty ginger-headed centaur who had joined him onstage, "Coral, whom many of you know from her superb cocktails and sound computational analyses of galaxy rotation, has kindly consented to take my place here. I am confident that the only difference you will notice is a higher level of class and sophistication once I have gone.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, please raise your glasses. In the waning moments of this year, I ask you to drink to the many hopeful auspices this year has given us, and to the new year, when these auspices will come to fruition."
Firenze acknowledged the applause with a gracious nod of his head.
Severus turned to his companion. "That was the announcement for which I postponed my greatly-anticipated private audience with the Ministry's Centaur Liaison Officer?"
Hermione wasn't listening. She was staring across the room to the opposite corner of the room. "Severus, look."
Firenze was making his way through the crowd of well-wishers, but his eyes were drawn to the solitary figure that stood in the corner, half-obscured by the table and deep in shadow.
Across the room, somebody began the countdown to midnight.
Fifty-nine! Fifty-eight! Fifty-seven!
Firenze extended his hand, and the figure stepped out of the shadows, golden hair falling to her bare shoulders. The two centaurs crossed to Hermione and Severus's table. Severus squeezed Hermione's hand to calm her; she had begun squealing excitedly as soon as she recognised Firenze's companion.
"Hermione, Severus, thank you for coming tonight. I suspect you had plans, and I am grateful that you were able to make time for me."
"It was our pleasure, Firenze," answered Hermione quickly.
Thirty-four! Thirty-three! Thirty-two!
"We wanted you to be the first, and preferably only, humans to know," said Burnish with only a mild threat in her tone.
"Burnish has accepted my suit, and we are now mates," said Firenze.
"Oh, how wonderful!" exclaimed Hermione.
"Congratulations," said Severus with uncharacteristic warmth. "May your foals be plentiful."
"And may they be strong their mother," finished Firenze.
Burnish nearly smiled. "Come, Firenze," she ordered. "Now that you have given this place to that ridiculous filly, return to the forest with me."
Twenty! Ninteen! Eighteen!
"It will be my pleasure, dearest," said Firenze. "However, midnight is nearly upon us. It is the custom among humans to kiss in the first seconds of the new year."
"Then let the humans kiss to their artificial historical calendar, and I will kiss you in the lunar new year," said Burnish.
"Isn't that in February?" asked Hermione innocently.
Ten! Nine! Eight!
"I have waited ten years already," said Firenze with a tragic air. "It is no great hardship to wait another two months."
Fire! Four! Three! Two! One!
The cry of "Happy New Year!" rose from all the gathered revellers, and the band began to play "Auld Lang Syne," as tiny points of light began to drift down from the ceiling.
Burnish smirked at Firenze and led him out of the club. As he shut the door behind him, he caught Hermione's eye and mouthed "Thank you." She grinned in response and waved. She turned to the taciturn man beside her.
"Well, are you satisfied?" she asked.
In response, he glared and seized her waist. He wrapped his other hand behind the back of her head and began kissing her, at first on the lips, and then trailing kisses across her jaw line and down her neck until she was gasping.
"I am now," he growled in her ear.
Author's Note: the Latin used as line breaks has a long and glorious tradition as a space filler. I'm sure Cicero would have been proud. Apologies to Brits, ex-Brits, and Anglophiles everywhere. I don't write in British English unless I have compelling reasons to do so. In this case, I was attempting to make it harder for my gift recipient to guess my identity. I have no idea if it worked. Thank you for your patience, and thank you for reading!